- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
The race evolved in its middle reaches into a high-speed chase among Big Al; Rahal, a dour, balding man known as Bobby Ray Hall when he races down South; Rick Mears; road-racer Howdy Holmes; Geoff Brabham, son of Black Jack, the former Grand Prix great; and Sneva. At one point about a third of the way into the race, the seven leading cars were on the same lap, a tribute to this year's exciting equality of designs. One design that didn't work was Eric Broadley's Lola, entered by Lola importer Carl Hass and movie star Paul Newman and driven by a disgruntled Mario Andretti. Andretti hasn't won at Indy since 1969, 14 long, frustrating years ago. On the 80th lap, as he chased Johnny Parsons Jr. into Turn 1, Parsons suddenly lost it, spun directly in front of Andretti and set up the day's worst tangle.
"What happened was very simple," Andretti explained when he got back from the field hospital. "Johnny went in too hard, got below the line and bobbled. When he got sideways, I tried to go outside, but he just carried me right into the wall. The side pod hit—it was a hell of an impact. Before that, the car was mediocre at best, but it was drivable and predictable.... I'm sore. I'm hurting in my heart. But this place is just something for me.... Que sera, sera, just another racing accident—what more can I say?"
At the midpoint of the race, Roger Penske's Yellow Peril, a.k.a. the combination of Big Al and Mears, was clutching to a narrow lead over Sneva. But clearly something was gravely amiss with Mears's car. "It started out pushing [oversteering], and then when the fuel got half empty it neutraled," said Mears later. "From half empty to empty it just got loose [understeered]. I had to hit the brakes to stay off the wall. On our first pit stop we lowered the rear flap [wing] and put more stagger in the rear tires, and that helped for a while. The track got slippery as it got warmer, but I was working so hard I couldn't tell much."
Big Al also reported pushing as his main difficulty, and then his car, too, came loose toward the end. Was there a design flaw in this year's Penske creation? Mears rode the brakes so hard all day long that they began to fade on him as the race progressed—the first time that had happened to him on a fast track. "I about spun that thing 15 times today," he said with a wince.
Brabham's fine, charging ride—he blew past the elder Unser on Lap 124, more than 300 miles along the way, to take second place momentarily—was slowed disastrously in the pits on a subsequent stop that lost him more time than he could hope to recover. Rahal, who also threatened from time to time, suddenly felt water sheeting into his cockpit on Lap 110. He thought at first his drinking-water bottle had burst, but then he saw his engine temperature soar and knew the worst: His radiator had split. End of a worthy effort. "I'm probably going to go home and kick the dog," he quipped with unaccustomed wit.
Mike Mosley, No. 2 on the front row at the start, kept up his tradition of running in hard luck. He was lying sixth on Lap 169 when he lost it in the apex of Turn 1. His yellow March-Cosworth seemed to leap sideways into the gray zone above the line and then spun in a cloud of blue burning rubber. He pounded the wall at nearly 194 mph, the car shedding fiber glass in a yellow burst that sounded like a terrorist bomb. He caromed down the banking. Sneva, whipping up from behind, dodged instinctively and cleared Mosley's broken machine by a whisker.
It was during the caution period brought on by Mosley's mishap that Big Al made his momentous tire-change decision while Sneva took extra long in the pits to ensure that his fuel tanks were topped off for the final run. When Sneva took the checkered flag, the tension finally eased in his pits. He and his chief mechanic, George Bignotti, had screamed at each other on Thursday night over an unexplained oil leak during carburetion, and on Saturday about radio communication procedures. Reports filtered out of the garage area of wrenches being thrown by driver and master mechanic. Sneva's win, though, was the seventh in Bignotti's Indy career as the Wizard of Whiz, and its sweetness did much to allay his testiness. And Sneva's as well.
"The marriage between you and George Bignotti has been stormy on occasions," ran a question Sneva was asked at his postrace press conference. "Is a divorce imminent now?"
"We couldn't be more happy with the situation today," said the plump-cheeked winner, his eyes bright behind his spectacles. "It feels a lot better than being a bridesmaid. I want to do this some more—it feels that good."